cover image Hot Johnny (and the Women Who Loved Him)

Hot Johnny (and the Women Who Loved Him)

Sandra Jackson-Opoku, Sandra Jackso Opoku. One World, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42896-7

Women love charismatic, faithless John Wright, and in this ambitious novel by award-winning author, poet and journalist Jackson-Opoku (The River Where Blood Is Born), they tell his story in a crazy quilt of interconnected episodes. From the hapless Destiny--who becomes his wife and bears a daughter plagued with sickle-cell anemia--through siblings, numerous lovers and an ancestor who holds the key to his past, Hot Johnny is portrayed in the various stages of his difficult life. From the time he was a little boy, abandoned by a mother who preferred life on the streets to raising a child, Johnny has had a knack for getting people to take care of him. Jackson-Opoku captures the different voices and attitudes of the women who cross paths with the unforgettable Johnny: his half-sister, Sister Baby Ruth; Miz Jones, a 38-year-old woman who has an affair with him when he is 19; Tree, the athlete who competes with him both on and off the college basketball court; and Gracita Reinu, his pioneering great-grandmother, who gave him his strong spirit and will to survive. Although the author adeptly juggles numerous personalities, she too often sends them off on crude, meaningless tangents or reduces them to speaking in awkward clich s. And the puzzling decision to throw in a possibly incestuous relationship and a contrived subplot in which Johnny is forced to search for a blood relative to aid his ailing daughter adds further distraction to an already intricate plot. Still, Jackson-Opoku's ability to craft memorable characters with distinct temperaments and sensibilities marks her as a writer to be reckoned with. Agent, Susan Bergholz. 5-city author tour. (Feb. 2)